Ezra: Theological High Points

ezra 2The books of Ezra and Nehemiah show the numerous ways that God was faithfully at work in restoring the people of Israel to their land after the Babylonian exile. Similar to the books of 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah form a single book in the Hebrew Old Testament. However, when the Greek version of the bible, the Septuagint, was composed, Ezra and Nehemiah were split into two separate books. Ezra is “best remembered for his reading of the Torah to the postexilic community and the consequent religious revival it inspired.

Interestingly, the book of Ezra begins with the same decree that ends the book of second Chronicles. Chronicles, however, shortens the decree and ends with an eschatological invitation whereas Ezra includes the entire decree. Most historians believe that the similarities between the books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah stem from the fact that they were composed by the same author. Again, the author was intentional about the history included in the work, emphasizing particular religious themes. The chronicler’s compilation of Ezra and Nehemiah was motivated by keen theological interests.

The focus of the book of Ezra is on the rebuilding of the temple. A nation without a temple is a nation without a God. The author of Ezra sought to emphasize the importance of reestablishing covenant relationship with the Lord. The rebuilding of the temple was a physical manifestation of “God’s fulfillment of earlier promises to restore the remnant of Israel. When the Hebrews returned to their homeland, they had been transformed under the ministry of Ezekiel. The first six chapters of Ezra consist of lengthy genealogies, aimed at establishing the legitimacy of the priesthood. The last half of the book focuses on rebuilding Israel’s spiritual life.

buildThe theological highpoint of the book of Ezra is the spiritual rebuilding of the people of Israel. Ezra committed himself to encourage the people. He set his heart to study the law and the Torah of Yahweh to practice and teach its statutes. In essence, he prepared himself for his coming role. “The call to spiritual renewal and social justice by the two reformers [Ezra and Nehemiah] was aimed at correcting abuses and gross misconduct among the returned remnant and instilling hope and boosting the morale of the people. God’s faithfulness to the covenant revealed that He was not done with His people. The Israelites had faith and “trusted God for the accomplishment of feats that served as concrete manifestations of His covenant keeping ability.

A modern reader of the book of Ezra should take note of the way in which Ezra prepared himself for his work. Ezra knew that he was to bring about a spiritual renewal among the Israelites, so he set himself to study the Torah in order to practice and teach its statutes. Today, this should serve as encouragement to those who have heard God’s calling on their life. Like Ezra, seminarians work diligently to study the Word of God in order to prepare themselves for their coming ministry. If one lives a life that is pleasing to God, following all that he has commanded of them, then the Lord will give them the desires of their heart, and use their life to His glory.

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2 Chronicles: Theological High Points

1The chronicler’s history offered hope in postexilic Jerusalem by assuring the present community that of the sovereign Lord of Hosts, having been active during the reigns of David and Solomon, would continue providentially to intervene in Hebrew history to accomplish the prophetic vision of Zion. In 2 Chronicles, much like in the first, the author seeks to focus his discussion on reform efforts and the good kings in Judah’s history. The kingships of David and Solomon “served as models of an ‘ideal’ Israel under theocratic rule for the present community.

The reader should remind themselves of the qualifications of a successful king as laid out in Deuteronomy 17. Those criterions are largely taken out of the books of Chronicles. The first part of 2 Chronicles focuses on Solomon’s desire to rebuild the temple. Though he practiced syncretism, and sought to acquire gold and women, the author reminds the reader of the “good side” of Solomon’s half-hearted kingship. The last half of the work centers on the kings who brought reform in Judah, namely Hezekiah and Josiah.

The worship of Yahweh was an integral part of the chronicler’s theocratic ideal for postexilic Jerusalem. The author emphasized the importance of both individual and corporate worship. True worship, according to the chronicler, is rooted in love for God as well as the fear of the Lord. Worship stemmed from the condition of the heart, and was valued as an attitude leading to an active experience before the Lord. Of special importance to the chronicler was the significance of worship as word. The Israelites, and Yahweh, valued oath taking, song, and liturgical responses as an active expression of worship. The Levitical priests were charged with overseeing the worship and representing the Israelites in sacrifices and communal worship events.

2Second Chronicles ends with a significant political decree. The Cyrus Decree ends the book of 2 Chronicles and begins the book of Ezra. However, the chronicler leaves out half of verse 3. Ezra 1:3 says, “anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.” The chronicler, however, says “Anyone of his people among you – may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.” This omission and revision can be interpreted as an eschatological invitation. The chronicler is alluding to something that is yet to come, granting even more hope to his intended audience. In this manner, the end of 2 Chronicles attaches itself to the Davidic Covenant, bolstering the foundation for a Messianic theology.

A modern reader of 2 Chronicles should remember that all of the promises made to the Israelites also hold true to modern day readers as well. The end of 2 Chronicles offers an eschatological invitation to the audience, alluding to a coming messiah. The audience of the chronicler spent roughly 70 years in Babylonian captivity. While they were there, the prophet Ezekiel ministered to them. The group left for Babylonia as half-baked pagans but came back as fervent monotheists. Similar to the Israelites, the Lord uses ‘wilderness experiences’ in our lives to refine our faith and increase the desire to serve him. A modern reader should use the scriptures for encouragement, even those that have been widely debated. Second Timothy 3:16 confirms that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

1 Chronicles: Hope through History

1 ChronChronicles seeks to retell the story of the God of history, more specifically the biography of the God of Israel’s history – especially Davidic kingship. Much like the books of Samuel and Kings, the division present in the books of Chronicles is arbitrary, resulting from the length of the work. The books of first and second Chronicles seek to legitimize the priestly authority and analyze the kingships of Solomon and David, focusing on their significant, positive, theological influence.

First Chronicles begins with a lengthy genealogy. In ancient times, it was important to note who was related. As the Israelites reclaim their homeland from the Babylonia exile, the tribal names and structure begin to reappear. Thus, it is important to note what land belonged to which tribe, as well as to legitimize who was a Levitical priest. These Levitical priests were charged to give oversight to worship, sacrifice, and festivals. As the Israelites reenter their homeland, the Chronicler offers a theology of hope. The present distress would one day give way to the restoration of Israel, according to the theocratic ideal expressed in Chronicles.

prettyChapters 10-29 of first Chronicles begin to reveal the theological agenda of the Chronicler. The central message of the work centers on the Israelite united monarchy and the crucial roles play by David and Solomon in establishing and maintaining the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The reader must be careful to note that the Chronicler expressed freedom in what was included and excluded from his writings. This includes material from both biblical and extrabibilical sources. One must consider, however, the intended audience. The author is writing to an audience that has come back from Babylonian exile. This group desires to inhabit the promise land and establish a covenant life with Yahweh. One great example of omission by the Chronicler is the overemphasis of favorable character traits of David and Solomon.

The kingship of Saul is expressed in one chapter of first Chronicles. His life is evaluated in chapter 10 verse 13, “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord.” On the contrary, the Chronicler spends ample time discussing the kingship of David. In chapter 17, the author recounts the Davidic Covenant and David’s prayerful response. In Chapter 20 verse 1, the author omits David’s sin with Bathsheba. Scholars have argued the rationale for this. First, the audience would have been familiar with the story of David, and understood that he had sinned. In addition, the audience can read Psalm 51 for reference to David’s sin. The Chronicler focused his work on religious reforms with the understanding that his audience was already familiar with these characters and stories. Respect for divinely appointed authority figures and obedience to the covenant stipulations were absolutely essential for the success of the postexilic community.

seekA modern reader of 1 Chronicles should realize the authors’ intended audience. One of the Chronicler’s main purposes was to portray the history of Israel in a positive way, as to instill hope in the readers. The audience would have understood the kingships to which the author was referring to, and realized that the author omitted part of the story. Likewise, the scripture offers the modern reader hope. The book of 1 Chronicles focuses on the kingship of David, focusing on the positive aspects of his reign. The focus on the Davidic Covenant also offers a modern reader hope. The Davidic Covenant sets the foundation for messianic theology. Today, Christians understand that allusion to be Jesus Christ. Similar to the audience of 1 Chronicles, modern readers have the hope that Christ will return.

2 Kings: The Divided Kingdom

24390b0d4b3906667b0c6bf69a075a88The book of Kings represents a selective history of Israel from the closing days of King David’s reign until the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. After the forty-year reign of Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the Northern and the Southern. The book of Kings examines 19 rulers in the North, determining all of them to be evil because of the golden calf cult. Only eight of the rulers of Judah in the south were considered “good”. These rulers followed the example of David and obeyed Yahweh.

The major theological highpoint of 2 Kings is the fact that both roads taken by both nations ultimately led to exile. After the death of Solomon, the monarchy split into the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Both of these nations failed to meet the stipulations of the Davidic covenant. The narrative focuses on the figures primarily responsible for covenant keeping in Israel – the kings and the prophets. Each kingdom adhered to a different definition of kingship. In the south, Judah practiced “dynastic succession”. Whenever a monarch passed away, the throne was inherited by the eldest son, which ultimately established a sequence of kings from the same ruling family. In the North, however, Israel combined the dynastic succession model of kingship with the charismatic leadership model typical of the era of the Hebrew judges. Ultimately, the Israelites rejected Yahweh as their leader and put their faith in human rulers.

502976356_640Second Kings 17 gives a theological recount of the situation in the Northern Kingdom. Verses 35-39 reiterate the fact that the Israelites should not worship any other gods, keep the commands of Yahweh, and do not forget the covenants that Yahweh has made. However, “they would not listen, but perished in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols” (2 King 17:40-41).  In 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Hezekiah was able to bring about reform in the Kingdom.

Hezekiah, the king of Judah, sent a message to Lachish, the king of Assyria. This event reminds the reader of the account of David and Goliath. Hezekiah petitioned the Lord, and his response lined up with the divine agenda. Isaiah, in 2 Kings 19:6 said, “This is what the Lord says; Do not be afraid of what you have heard… Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.” Yahweh ensures that this prophecy is fulfilled. By relying on the Lord, and leaning not on his own understanding, Hezekiah was able to bring about reform in the kingdom despite political trouble. After the reign of king Josiah, Babylon began a siege of Jerusalem, deporting the Israelites from their homeland. In 605, the Babylonians took the brightest minds among the Israelites. In 597, Ezekiel left the kingdom. According to 2 Kings 25, Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians in 587 BC..

c3df558a01d61b918a47a442694a037eA modern reader of 2 Kings should realize that when one tries to control their own life, their path will lead to destruction. Both the Kingdom’s of Israel and Judah rejected the supremacy of Yahweh, choosing for them a human king, and practicing theological syncretism. In the Age of Grace, Jesus Christ has provided Christians with the one true way to eternal life. The book of 2 Kings focuses on the leaders of the nation, because they were responsible for keeping the covenant. Likewise, we are responsible for hearing and repenting from our old ways. Christians choose to die to themselves daily so that they may follow the Lord. Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Thus, one must follow the ways of the Lord in all that they do, relying on Yahweh to lead them on the path that leads to the narrow gate.

1 Kings: Theological High Points

word cloudThe books of Kings continue the story of kingship begun in Samuel, and their primary purpose is to record the ‘covenant failure’ of the Hebrew united and divided monarchies. Together, the books of 1-2 Kings conclude the history from its origins in Genesis with Abraham to the fall of Jerusalem. The books emphasize the importance of covenant relationship with Yahweh, and the affects of covenant faithfulness or rebellion on the Israelites.

The division between 1-2 Kings is arbitrary. It was merely a distinction created upon the premise of convenience due to the length of the writing. In regards to authorship, there are two schools of thought. The first adheres to the belief that the prophet Jeremiah compiled the work. The second believe that 1-2 Kings is the product of a Deuteronomistic school or priests who attempt to give emphasis to specific theological interests such as the purity of the temple and the fulfillment of prophetic revelation to the Hebrew kingship. Given the available evidence, they do best to assign the books of Kings to an anonymous compiler-author of the sixth century B.C.

The first chapters of 1 Kings detail the ‘golden age’ of Israel. As king, Solomon found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Throughout his reign he brought unprecedented peace, wealth and prosperity, glory and splendor to Israel during his tenure to the throne. However, towards the end of his reign, Solomon began to abandon the instruction for a king set forth in Deuteronomy 17. Solomon began to create political alliances, held a tendency toward syncretism, and gerrymandered the Israelite administrative districts. There was steady political and moral decay within the kingdom. Ultimately, the author of 1 Kings attributes the division of Israel’s united monarchy to Solomon’s sin of idolatry. Though he is viewed as a half-hearted King, Solomon contributed theological truth to his kingdom through the writing of proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.

1 kings -)Another significant theological high point of the book of 1 Kings is the battle in chapter 18 between Baal and Yahweh. Paganism and syncretism were rampant during the time of Elijah. Elijah assembled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and commanded that there be two altars built for a burnt offering. Elijah said to them I will prepare another bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God. Elijah trusts that Yahweh will show up. When the prophets of Baal failed to ignite their altar, Elijah began to taunt them, even implying that their god was using the bathroom. After the Lord consumed the altar of Elijah, proving that he was the one true God, Elijah began a spiritual ‘house cleaning’. He commanded that the prophets of Baal be slaughtered, cleansing the region of the pagans. This event exemplifies the emergence of the preclassical and classical prophets in Israel.

The modern reader should realize that the leadership shapes a nation. The author of 1 Kings emphasizes the fact that king-led idolatry was a major factor in the failure of many kings. Like the king, so goes the nation. The same holds true today. Without God fearing leaders, decisions will not be made in the best interest of the nation as a whole. For the United States, our leadership has failed to submit to divine authority, thus, there has began a political and moral decay throughout the nation. Routinely, political leaders fail to recognize the divine authority of Yahweh, relying on their own wisdom to make decisions. In 1 Kings 3:9, it says so give your servant [Solomon] a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? The Lord was pleased that Solomon would turn to Him, and granted Solomon’s petition. If the local, state, and national leaders adhered to the commands of the Lord, then the people of the nation would see their example, and the Lord would reward not only the leadership, but the people, for their faithfulness.